Can this large-sensor superzoom take the category to a more professional level?
camera system that’s somewhere between a compact and DSLR that also has a significant zoom range. Enter the Fujifilm X-S1. Although it may look similar to many other superzoom cameras (and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a DSLR), underneath the hood is a large 2/3in sensor size (the same as found in the high-end X10 compact camera). With a surface area more than twice that of a standard compact cameras’ 1/2.3in sensor, the promise is for better image quality, all wrapped up in a high-spec body with a peppering of other top features. But with a £700 SRP, is the X-S1 high quality enough to tempt a more demanding audience?
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Key Specs
1. 12MP, 2/3in CMOS sensor
2. 26x optical zoom (24-624mm equiv.)
3. Manual zoom and focus rings
4. Lens-based image stabilisation
5. 100% FoV, 0.47in, 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF)
6. 3in, 460k-dot, tilt-angle LCD screen
7. Full manual control
8. Raw & JPEG shooting
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Features
As the X-S1 features a larger sensor its lens isn’t quite as far-reaching as some of the competition. The larger sensor demands a larger lens size in order to deliver an image circle of light to cover the sensor, though the 24-624mm (26x) zoom range is still considerably more than you’d find in any compact camera.
The lens’ f/2.8-5.6 aperture is bright at the wideangle end, and rather more standard at the telephoto settings – though shallow depth of field (blurred background) is easily achievable and curved aperture blades make for a softer, more rounded bokeh effect (the type of blur). But what the X-S1 delivers that’s unlike other superzoom, albeit much like Fuji’s HS20 and HS30 siblings, is an all-important hands-on manual zoom control. The zoom ring on the lens barrel extends the lens much like using a DSLR lens, plus there’s a separate manual focus ring set to the rear of the barrel. Only Fujifilm has brought this dual-ring style of lens to the superzoom market so far, and it’s one of the camera’s more attractive features.
When shooting at longer focal lengths keeping the camera steady for not only a sharp image but accurate framing can be tricky. To assist the X-S1 has lens-based image stabilisation that mechanically manoeuvres the lens by the tiniest of amounts to counter hand shake, an essential feature for such a camera.
Those that have contemplated buying a superzoom but who have found too many issues with viewfinder features will be interested in the X-S1’s new electronic viewfinder (EVF). At 1.44million dots in resolution (that’s SVGA or 800×600 pixels) and 0.47inches in size there’s no other superzoom with an EVF like it. Coverage is 100% across the frame and the eye level sensor can be set to automatically switch the device on as your face nears the camera. It’s great to see a step up in feature set, and although this isn’t a revolutionary EVF – it’s the same standard as that found in the likes of Nikon’s V1 Compact System Camera, for example – it does represent a big step up in standards for the superzoom market.
On the rear of the camera is a 3in, 460k-dot LCD screen mounted on a tilt-angle bracket that’s designed to assist with waist-level viewing.
As has come to be expected, the X-S1 has the full array of manual controls, plus Auto and Fujifilm’s EXR modes. The latter is a trio of shooting options that can auto-process an image in one of three ways: High Resolution uses the full 12-megapixel resolution when shooting in decent lighting conditions; Wide Dynamic Range produces a medium-size image where exposure is adjusted for both shadows and highlights; and High Sensitivity & Low Noise also produces a medium-size image where two sensor pixels are used for one final pixel in the image in order to achieve lower image noise. One-touch Raw capture is available, or full-time Raw and Raw & JPEG can also be activated.
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Design
From afar the X-S1 looks a lot like a DSLR and, for the most part, it feels like one in use too (not least because it’s roughly the same size and weight as one). Indeed this is far larger than a standard superzoom. The camera’s design has taken a number of staple DSLR-like features to make for easy, hands-on control. The all-metal dials are robust and the mode dial and top rotational dial protrude from the camera’s body to make them prominent targets for the hands.
The main body itself is coated in a tactile, rubber-like coating as a means to resist moisture and enhance grip. While this may be practical, this aspect of the finish doesn’t look or feel as high quality as the more intricate metal-built parts.
Using the lens is easy thanks to ridges on the barrel for a sturdy grip, mimicked by the smaller, tucked-to-the-back manual focus ring. The metallic barrel is rigid and strong, which is a sure sign of quality. Compared to the HS20 the X-S1 has the far larger manual focus ring, which makes for far more practical use as it’s easy to tuck fingers around the side of the body to get ample control.
Using the camera is easy for the most part, and the inclusion of two Fn buttons – one set next to the mode dial on the top of the camera, the other the upward key of the rear d-pad – ensure quick-access options are available. Customisation of these keys is also possible.
At times, however, the arrangement of buttons and dials can feel a little close together. To change the autofocus point position while still looking through the EVF, for example, requires pressing one out of the four rear, left-aligned buttons before then using the d-pad to reposition the point and the top thumbwheel to re-size if desired. Sounds seamless, but the right hands feels as though it’s pressing against the corner of the camera body to reach all necessary settings. A more ergonomic layout wouldn’t have gone amiss, something a front press-button-cum-thumbwheel could have gone some way to assisting with.
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Performance
In use the X-S1 may outclass previous superzoom models in some areas, but its £700 suggested price tag makes it more expensive than a number of DSLR cameras. As such it’s fair to assess the camera in the context of both superzoom and DSLR market areas.
It’s the autofocus system that deserves the most focus of attention, as there are a mixture of positives and negatives.
On the upside the ability to manually select from 49 focus points and adjust the point’s size is welcome, plus it’s easy to perform and visualise thanks to the rear Info display. The AF-C/AF-S/MF focus switch on the front of the camera is a helpful way to jump between focus types, plus the manual focus (MF) is easy to control with the smooth focus ring and it’s possible to magnify a user-defined focus area for finer focus. Single autofocus (AF-S) is fast to acquire a subject, moreso at the wideangle end of the zoom, and the AF-assist lamp makes the X-S1 more capable in low light than any other superzoom that’s passed through the WDC office.
On the downside, however, there are a few issues: The AF-C/AF-S/MF switch is rather small and, while useful, is a touch on the fiddly side. Also the continuous autofocus (AF-C) is slow to drift between one depth of focus and the next, making the camera feel very much like a typical compact. AF-C is also restricted to a centre cross-point only, rendering the 49 points out of bounds. In AF-S the Face Detection option also over-rides the ability to adjust the single-point, requiring a quick menu dig before this full control can be reactivated. On some occasions when the camera is hunting for a subject the real-time feed can freeze until focus is acquired (a problem that the HS20 possessed). So if a subject is moving through the frame it may suddenly appear to freeze before re-appearing elsewhere – not ideal when focusing on moving subjects, in particular at such long focal lengths.
However the overall system is better than the earlier (and smaller sensor) HS20 model. We’ve sat both cameras side by side to test how they react in different scenarios and can confirm that the X-S1 is a step forward in many areas – but not the faultless, DSLR-rivaller it’s supposed to be.
The inclusion of user control and customisation is the right step forward where the focusing system is concerned, but the overall ability of Fuji’s contrast-detection system doesn’t match up to a DSLR’s phase-detection system. Plus, at the time of writing, a Nikon D3100 with both 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses is some £40 less than Fuji’s initial asking price and just one example of what else can be purchased within this budget area. The X-S1 is certainly capable enough in single autofocus and offers more versatility than a DSLR on account of its live view abilities, but those forking out the big money may find their expectations aren’t met across the board.
An apparent bug in the first firmware causes occasional issues with powering the camera up – something we hope to see rectified in future firmware.
There are other features that do knock the socks off compared to existing superzooms. The large, bright EVF is one such example. It’s way beyond anything else the competition has out there, and is on a par with the viewfinders you’ll find in many Compact System Cameras. The eye sensor is useful, though can be hyper-sensitive and cut out the preview when angling the face to excess.
There’s an EVF/LCD button next to the viewfinder to make it easy to keep either display switched on, or for the auto eye sensor to be activated instead. The eye-level sensor can be a little over-sensitive, causing the viewfinder to cut out when angling the face against it, yet still in close proximity, for example.
The camera’s Macro and Super-Macro shooting options also enable 1cm-from-lens shooting at the 24mm wideangle setting. At the longest 624mm focal length this does drift up to two metres, as is to be expected, though that’s still impressive. Another example would be achieving a 70cm from lens focus when shooting at 14x zoom (336mm equiv.).
Image stabilisation is another impressive feature. As the system is lens-based it not only assists in keeping final shots sharper but also stabilises the preview image in real time.
The camera’s battery is all-new rechargeable NP-95 li-ion, far superior to the 4xAA batteries of other Fuji superzooms. Its life is represented by a ‘three bar’ system rather than a more accurate percentage-based system which can make gauging how many frames will be left per charge a little tricky. However the camera’s able to shoot hundreds of shots with each charge, upwards of 450 in our test.
Burst shooting is also impressive. Able to capture six Raw & JPEG frames before freezing up, the files were all written to the Class 10 card in 16 second, though the camera was uable again after eight seconds. For whatever reason it’s not possible to shoot more than five-six frames in JPEG only, however.
The X-S1’s startup time may seem a little slow, but turning on the ‘Quick Start Mode’ in the menu will rectify any issues. It’s also essential to have a clean, formatted memory card to keep everything running smoothly – as much as that’s the case with any camera, most will operate to some degree, whereas the X-S1 wasn’t usable due to failing to eject the memory card from a computer correctly prior to use in the camera.
Fujifilm X10 review – Image Quality
X-S1 review: Tone & Exposure
The X-S1 employs a 256-zone metering system, with the choice of either Multi segment, Centre-weighted or spot metering modes. For the most part these modes options cope well, though it’s not uncommon for shots to err towards a bright, near-overexposed level.
The inclusion of Fuji’s EXR technology means image quality can be approached in a variety of different ways. It’s possible to get full resolution 12MP files from the camera, but the EXR mode also opens up SN (High Sensitivity, Low Noise) and DR (Wide Dynamic Range) modes. For the latter two the output is halved to 6-megapixels as each of these mode uses two sensor diodes per image pixel.
SN uses the signal from both diodes for a cleaner signal to limit image noise, while DR takes two exposures simultaneously for a broader exposure to cater for both shadow and highlight detail within the one shot. These modes work with some success, in particular the DR option.
X-S1review: White Balance & Colour
The X-S1’s colour rendition is accurate for the most part, though some scenes will ‘dial out’ warmer light – whether sunlight or additional lighting – to some degree.
There is also a collection of Film Simulation modes that mimic the characteristics of Fujifilm’s pro stock too – Provia, Astia and Velvia modes features alongside Mono and Sepia options.
X-S1 review: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
The X-S1’s larger sensor goes a long way in improving overall image quality in regards to image noise. In fact we’d say the X-S1 has better image quality and lower noise than any other superzoom camera out there, though it won’t quite beat the majority of Compact System Cameras (from Nikon 1 sensor size and larger).
The X-S1’s standard ISO 100-3200 range can be captured at full resolution, reduced to 6MP at ISO 6400 and a meagre 3MP at ISO 12,800. Capping shooting at the standard ISO level is best advised as this is where shots remain at their best.
From ISO 100-800 Raw & JPEG shots are very good. Although image quality deteriorates from ISO 3200-6400 it’s still an improvement compared to the rest of the current superzoom market. JPEG noise reduction can be a bit ‘strong’ for the higher ISO settings, which softens shots overall, though shooting Raw will provide fuller control.
X-S1 review: Sharpness & Detail
With a lens spanning from wideangle through to a considerable telephoto focal length, the X-S1’s optical performance is impressive. At the wideangle setting there is some distortion but it’s quite acceptable, and neither edge-softness nor vignetting posed an issue. Chromatic aberrations, too, were absent throughout the frame at all focal lengths.
Sharpness is reasonable throughout, though as it often becomes a necessity to increase the ISO sensitivity at longer focal lengths, so the overall biting detail will diminish. The lowest ISO settings, on the other hand, maintain a sharper appearance.
X10 review: Specular Highlights
An ongoing issue, as found with the Fujifilm X10’s 2/3in sensor, is where specular highlights are rendered as hard-edged white orbs. It’s an issue that only rears its head in specific circumstances – points of light, such as lamps in nightscapes, or some reflections from reflective surfaces in bright sunlight can, though won’t always, pose a problem. As with any such highlight, the light source needs to be direct from subject to lens. This isn’t flare from a lens-based issue, it appears to be an early-level processing issue as it affects both Raw and JPEG files in the same way.
It’s not necessarily a reason to panic, as most shots in our test weren’t subject to the issue, though a number of lamps in example night shots did succumbe to this problem. If you’re a star-gazer or night photographer then this sensor may not be the one for you. A firmware fix update is anticipated in the coming months, though whether this will dampen or fully eradicate the problem is unclear.
X10 review: Raw vs. JPEG
The X-S1 comes bundled with Silkypix’s Raw File Converter EX software in the box. It’s comprehensive enough to provide plenty of control over Raw shots, though the ongoing ‘white orb’ issue will show itself whether shooting Raw or JPEG.
The Raw files appear flatter and have a more muted colour palette, as is to be expected, yet their far larger uncompressed file size provides plenty more room for adjustment than JPEG equivalents.
Value & Verdict
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Value
There’s no denying, this isn’t a cheap camera. The £700 asking price is more closely aligned with DSLR cameras, though, at the same time, there’s not a superzoom on the market with a feature set as advanced as this. It’ll prove good value for money to many, though is pricier than the longer-zoom FinePix HS30 model that’s also due out this year. More shrewdly priced than may at first meet the eye.
Fujifilm X-S1 review – Verdict
The X-S1 is an impressive superzoom, though it’s not quite the perfect machine. It’s a recommended piece of kit as there’s nothing else like it out there, and it gives the superzoom market the kick it needs. But then at £700 it is expensive, the overall autofocus performance won’t rival a similar-price DSLR, and the sensor can fall into difficulties when confronted with direct light sources that can generate hard-edged, circular highlights.
Expense taken in context, however, and there’s nothing else out there that can compare to the X-S1. A Panasonic Lumix GX1 and 100-300mm lens is closer to £900 and that’s without the EVF. Long-lenses on DSLR brands will be more expensive still. So Fujifilm’s been savvier here than it may at first seem.
There are plenty of positives to be had too: the X-S1 has a solid build, produces better low-noise images than any other superzoom, has a better viewfinder than any other superzoom (and, indeed, one that’s on par with many Compact System Cameras), a decent image stabilisation system, and a layout that handles a lot like a DSLR. That’s a big list of pros to outweigh the cons.